As the government lurched back from a shutdown on January 22, the status of the federal budget remained in flux. President Trump signed another short-term continuing resolution, meaning the government is no closer to settling on final funding numbers despite being months into FY2018. One of the most at-risk agencies is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its proposed $6.8 billion in cuts for affordable housing programs, which would dramatically alter how the United States serves its low-income and homeless populations.
Since appointing Ben Carson as the head of the agency, the Trump Administration has worked to devastate HUD’s influence. In May of 2017, the Trump Administration released its proposed funding levels for HUD, which included $6,822,500 in cuts to key housing programs. California in particular would be hit hard by the proposed cuts, which would total almost $1 billion in lost funding and impact almost 40,000 households per year, according to Affordable Housing online.
Two of the programs most severely impacted by these cuts are the Community Development Block Grant, which oversees programs such as Meals on Wheels and the Housing Choice Voucher program, which helps low-income individuals find affordable housing. The budget also proposes sweeping changes to the nature of the voucher program, including raising tenant contributions, raising the minimum rent and eliminating utility reimbursements.
Other programs at risk include the Public Housing Capital Fund, which is used to fund repairs at public housing properties, and would be cut 68 percent nationwide, and Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities, which would be cut 17 percent. These programs all exist to support low-income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, as well as other vulnerable populations. According to the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), affordable housing programs and HUD as a whole have been facing funding cuts since 1978, but this level of austerity would be unprecedented.
Compass Family Services, a local organization that helps San Francisco families facing homelessness secure stable housing, illustrated the precariousness of the situation. While they said they have not experienced any funding cuts to date, Erica Kisch—the Compass Family Services Executive Director—said “Our housing program, Compass SF HOME, has Rapid Rehousing grants for $645,453. If these funds were cut the subsidies and associated staffing on those contracts would go away and Compass could not continue these services with our general funds.”
The funding bills proposed by the Senate and House do not entail cuts as drastic as those of the Trump Administration, but they do still fail to adequately address affordable housing needs. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, almost $20 billion in additional funding would be needed to address rising rents and maintain the crucial Housing Choice Vouchers program. The Senate bill provides just $1.9 billion more in funding from 2017 and the House bill freezes HUD funding at the 2017 level, which would result in 30,000 and 110,000 housing vouchers not being renewed, respectively. The Trump bill, by contrast, would result in 235,000 vouchers not being renewed.
As the Center explains, the vouchers help over 5.3 million people nationwide and are necessary in making decent housing available in the private market. They are instrumental in reducing homelessness and housing insecurity. With any level of funding cuts, an already precarious housing crisis would be exacerbated throughout the country.
A hollow grant
HUD released a report in December that found that 553,742 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2017, a 0.7 percent increase from 2016 and the first uptick in homelessness since 2010. In response, Ben Carson announced a $2 billion grant for homeless programs, awarded to 7,300 local programs across the country. Programs in California received $383 million of the funding.
But as Paul Boden, the Executive Director of WRAP, explained, this move was nothing but a public relations move on the part of the Trump Administration. The grants marked just a $30 million increase in funding for California from 2017. Set against a proposed $1 billion in statewide HUD cuts, the number is largely meaningless, or as he put it, “HUD and the federal government continue to give out a pretense of caring about homelessness with this miniscule amount of money.”
He also contextualized the way federal grants pit local governments against each other. San Francisco can cheer that they received more than Oakland without having the opportunity to look at the larger picture. According to Boden, “this is hush money for local governments to not give a shit about housing cuts because they are all competing for homelessness grants.”
While budget talks and HUD cuts were making national headlines last year, this year they were drowned out by the tax bill debate. The committee overseeing HUD’s appropriations has been quiet, and the government continues to pass temporary funding bills instead of settling final budget numbers. As Boden explained, time will tell if we “pay for these tax cuts on the backs of poor people.” All signs point in that direction.